Understand, our goal is not just to MAKE them sit in the car seat. Our goal is to TRAIN them to cheerfully comply. The parent is obviously big enough to force the child to sit in the car seat. But like one older kid said on a different occasion, “I may be sitting down outside, but I am still standing up inside.” Our desire is not just to win the contest. We want to train them to sit down inside. As we look at this, we are not just discussing car seats; we are uncovering a principle which translates into all areas of child training.
When a child is only occasionally rebellious, even in a single area, you can be sure that you have a rebellious child. Don’t be deceived by the fact that they are mostly obedient. There are many areas wherein a child finds it convenient to obey. Out of pure selfishness a child may decide to give up his own will, possibly to avoid the hassle that is sure to follow. But when an issue comes along that is meaningful to him, he may then manifest his rebellion. A child who obeys 9 times out of 10 is not just 10% rebellious. He is a 100% rebel who expresses his rebellion 10% of the time. Rebellion itself is a state of mind, not an event. It is a condition of heart, not a condition of circumstance. If a child loses his temper it is because he had one to lose. When children burst into anger they are just dumping the load they regularly carry. We want to treat the cause not the symptom. A switch may treat the immediate symptom, but unless it is combined with effective training, it will not treat the source problem—the child’s heart.
Our desire as parents is to build character in our children. The power-play by itself is insufficient. We can not forcibly invade the command and control room of their hearts. It is their sacred ground. No one, not even God, can get into the recesses of another person’s soul, unless invited in. A parent may be spanking or intimidating a child into outward compliance while on the inside the child’s rebellion is actually growing.
A mother told her story: “Suzy has taken a notion that she doesn’t want to ride in the car seat. Every time I tell her to get in she refuses. I have spanked her, and she stubbornly stands there unyielding. I tell her that we are not going unless she gets in, and she still refuses. I called my husband out and he spanked her three times, but still she stubbornly refused to get in the seat. If we forcibly put her in the seat, she bucks and screams in defiance. I just don’t know what else to do. I feel guilty about further spanking.”
I asked this mother what she did after threatening to leave Suzy at home. She said she had no other choice; they went to the store with Suzy triumphantly standing as usual.
There are several preliminary things to consider:
First, ask yourself, “Is Suzy’s cry one of dread fear or one of angry rebellion?” Any parent will immediately know the difference. It is a slim possibility, but one you must first consider: could it be that she has developed some negative associations with car seats? If so, the following solution would not apply. I will not take the space to discuss the solution to so rare a possibility, but it would be the easier problem to address.
Second, note that up until this point the mother above has actually trained Suzy to rebel. The hollow threat to not allow her to go has convinced Suzy that her mother is a liar. Just two or three more screams and Suzy always wins. She has been trained to hold out against threats. She has also been taught that if she can just endure two or three more spankings she will eventually get her way. Her bottom is callused, but not as much as her soul.
Third, note that parents often depend on pain and threat alone to change Suzy’s mind. She is supposed to be scared into compliance. However she has proven that she is tougher than either parent. Like a good rebel soldier, she can hold out against enemy torture and still maintain her pride. Her resolve is: “No one is going to break my spirit.”
Fourth, note that in Suzy’s mind the battle ground has actually moved from the car seat to personal autonomy. Suzy is fighting a battle against the very concept of authority. She is learning early to resist all rule of law and to do only that which meets her fancy. This is a serious problem. The parents have already lost not only the battle but the child. Because Suzy is yet young and the consequences of her rebellion can be contained or ignored, the immediate ramifications are minimal. But when she is fourteen, the parent will suddenly cry out, “Where did I go wrong?” You lost the whole battle when your little girl was only 18 months old. After that you were just feeding and coddling an unthankful rebel until his or her day of throwing off the yoke.
Fifth, if the spanking is not working, especially if you feel guilty about it, don’t stick with a solution that doesn’t solve the problem. Spanking is only a part of a larger plan of child training. If all the other ingredients are missing, and you wait until everything is out of control and then jump in with the rod, you are asking the rod, which is only a part, to do the job of the whole. If you are trying to put a wheel on an axle, at some point it may be necessary to utilize the hammer, but if you rely on the hammer alone, without first lining up the wheel, you will not only fail to mount the wheel, you may damage it so that it can never be mounted. When a hammer is needed it is indispensable. When it is not needed, it is a clumsy hindrance. Unless you have a prior disposition against the very concept of the rod, or unless your thinking is clouded by anger or some other overriding emotion, you will surely do well to follow your own intuition concerning the appropriateness of the rod in each circumstance.
How might one appropriately deal with this situation? Keep in mind that we are wanting to knock at the door of the child’s soul and cultivate in him or her a desire to please and to obey. If we don’t get to the root, we have utterly failed. When we break rebellion in one area we have broken it all areas. The mind and heart must be persuaded, trained, conditioned, molded.
Certainly there is more than one way to effectively handle this scenario, but I will offer a solution that will provide us with insight into the principles we must come to understand. The key to developing a creative solution is to understand the motivation and methodology of the child. The parent wants the child to sit in the seat for the sake of safety. The child does not want to sit in the seat because it is not as fun as standing. And then there is the element of autonomy. The rebel child intuitively recognizes the need to maintain an unbroken record of independence. To give in just once is to confirm the parent’s decision to use the rod. It is to relinquish authority. Once the child has outwardly asserted her independence, she knows it is vital to all future confrontations to not yield her independence under threat. For the very same reasons it is vital that you win.
But you have a secret weapon —the keys to the car. (Be grateful that she is not yet able to drive.) She not only wants to stand; she wants to stand while you take a wonderful trip to the store. You had the right idea when you threatened to leave her behind. But you were a cowardly liar. Here is the principle: Your act of training must deny her any gratification or success in her rebellion. You must make all rebellion counterproductive. You do this by determining what her goals are and by arranging circumstances to thwart her efforts. You must appear the winner. You must be indomitable, unassailable. You must be an unmoving rock of truth and righteousness. Your word must be written in stone, the “law of the Medes and the Persians, which changeth not.”
When she refuses to get into the car seat, give her five licks with a stinging switch. Calmly command her to get in. If she doesn’t, repeat the switching. After about three times, if you are confident that two are three more switchings are not going to cause her to yield, calmly tell her that hereafter she will never be allowed to ride in the car unless she sweetly gets into it apart from threat or spanking. Of course, she thinks you are the same old liar, so she will resolutely determine to outmaneuver you. Take her inside and call someone you trust to sit with her while you go to the store. Regardless of her screams and threats, cheerfully leave her behind. When you return, be sure to have chocolate on your mouth and a smile on your face. Sing as you bring the groceries in, and be sure to forget to purchase the things she always persuades you to buy. Explain to her that you were having so much fun, and without her along to remind you, you just failed to buy the things she likes.
Don’t nag her about it. If you keep raising the issue, it may harden her resolve to hold out. Go on about your daily routine as normal. Do things with her that are fun, and let her know that you love her. Next day, get up excitedly talking about the trip the two of are going to take today—someplace she likes to go. Walk to the car and prepare the car seat. Tell her to get in. If she refuses, spank her right there, one time, and then take her back in the house. Call the babysitter and go have a great time. Come home in a party mood with a busted balloon hanging limply on the end of a stick. Tell her you sure did miss her at the mall, but maybe she will be able to go next time. Repeat this each day, one spanking and a short admonition before returning her to the baby sitter, until she cheerfully gets into the seat with no complaint.
You have denied her success as a rebel. She has learned that to cross Mama is total futility. Mama is Lord; she knows what she is doing. No one bests Mama—except Daddy.
When she climbs into the car seat of her own volition, without being driven into it with a switch, you have conquered her soul with light. Rebellion is crushed under the foot of Divine government—in the hands of Mama.
In the unlikely possibility that she continues to refuse, after say two weeks, take the car seat inside the house and tell her to get in. If she refuses, calmly use minimal force to strap her in. Designate a length of time that she must sit there, and let her out when the time is up. Try to make it long enough for her to tire and cease rebelling (two or three hours). It is most effective if she is in a state of surrender when she is released. Repeat this until she grows out of the car seat or until she willingly gets in.
We have taken this thing to the absurd. You will never have a small child who continues her rebellion once she is convinced that it is futile.
One final warning: If you are torn up emotionally, harboring anger, pity, grief, sadness, or anything other than disinterested cheerfulness, the child may not surrender. By your upset you are sending a signal that her terrorist tactics are effective.
I once asked a man how he was able to train his dog so effectively. He replied, “Oh, you just have to be smarter than the dog.”